by Steve Adubato, PhD

When it comes to customer service, there is no detail too small. My friend and colleague Jack Mitchell’s groundbreaking book “Hug Your Customers”, outlined all the ways that his clothing store Mitchells/Richards made customers feel special. But Jack’s book is just one of many that highlight what it really takes to connect with your clients, customers and stakeholders by using exceptional and empathetic communication skills.

What’s odd is that great customer service continues to be the exception, no matter how many books are written on the topic or how many customer satisfaction surveys tell us about what people want and need. Recently, I had to stop by NJIT because I will be teaching a course there in the School of Management. There, I met the Assistant to the Dean, Peggy Kenrick, who immediately introduced herself with a firm handshake, wide smile, and upbeat attitude and proceeded to walk me through the process of confirming my role as a visiting professor on campus. Everything about Peggy made it clear that customer service was a priority for her.

At our own company, Stand & Deliver, Mary Gamba is our head of marketing and client relations. Mary has worked with other colleagues to teach and mentor on the subject of customer relations. Recently, I talked with Mary and Peggy about some communication tips and tools that help them and others when it comes to making those they serve feel special.

--People want to know that they’ve been heard. Whether it is a student, a colleague or a prospective client, people need a sounding board. They need to know that they are not just being passed off as another “issue” or problem that is on your list for the day. Be sure to let the person finish speaking before you jump in. Only then can you truly hear their problem and will be in a better position to help them.

--Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”, but be sure to follow up with; “But I will do my best to find the answer for you.” However, don’t just SAY IT, be sure to follow up and follow through with what you said you were going to do. Remember, even if you still don’t have the answer after you’ve looked into it, be sure to follow up with something like, “I just want to let you know I am still working on XYZ, but I will get back to you no later than Friday.” The key is to treat them like a person, and not a number.

--E-mail is great, but don’t let it get in the way of the personal touch. Too many things in our world have become automated. We tend to send an e-mail, text or other electronic message too quickly, which results in a long string of back-and-forth e-mails to get clarification. Often, things are misread or misinterpreted. Especially when it comes to customer service, nothing can replace having a personal interaction, even if just by phone, with someone. It makes them feel special.

--When an internal or external customer has an issue or concern, remember the tried but true statement; “The customer is always right!” Sometimes that means that you have to assume some responsibility by saying something like; “I’m terribly sorry. I must have missed something. I thought we agreed that I would have your order to you by Friday…” By taking on some of the blame, it often softens the other person and you can more quickly come to a resolution.